“We cannot hope for disaster — we merely expect it.”
An alien (Arnold Moss) whose species is seeking a new planet to inhabit gathers five diverse humans — a British woman (Valerie French), an American journalist (Gene Barry), a German scientist (George Voskovec), a Soviet soldier (Azemat Janti), and a Chinese peasant (Marie Tsiena) — and hands them each a container of capsules designed to destroy all human existence. Will Earthlings be able to prevent themselves from mutual self-destruction, or will humanity prevail?
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Cold War
- Science Fiction
This taut sci-fi parable remains a smartly scripted B-level thriller, one which effectively explores humans’ potential for both beneficial collaboration and destructive antagonism. After being introduced to the basic premise of the situation — each capsule-owning human is the sole person capable (through mind power) of opening the container, which will deactivate upon their death — we eagerly watch as tensions mount, and the 27 days allotted for this alien-inspired life-or-death experiment tick away. Screenwriter John Mantley boldly kills off one of the five capsule-owners right away, then shifts swiftly between the other protagonists’ scenarios, neatly weaving their stories together into a climactic showdown against time and one another. Sure, there’s an obligatory romance (between French and Barry), and the final solution comes across as a tad too convenient — but the majority of this ride is well worth it.
Note: Interestingly, DVD Savant is nearly vitriolic in his distaste for this film, which he claims possesses a “rather embarrassingly bone-headed anti-Commie statement”; I disagree. Sure, the Soviet dictator (Stefan Schnabel) is portrayed as an autocratic, Stalin-esque villain, but it’s made abundantly clear that Janti is being bullied and manipulated, and that his compatriots are equally innocent — so isn’t this actually a remarkably sane and humane perspective on Cold War realities?
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Effective B-level sets
- A compelling script:
“People hate because they fear, and they fear anything they don’t understand — which is almost everything.”
Yes, as a finely crafted B-level thriller.